On outcomes of US-China talks

As leaders of states, Xi and Biden have met only once before, in the fall of 2022 in Bali (pictured)
As leaders of states, Xi and Biden have met only once before, in the fall of 2022 in Bali (pictured)

I will try to describe several important areas and how much progress is possible in the relationship

The long-awaited meeting between Xi Jinping and Joseph Biden has taken place. The talks, which lasted about four hours, were assessed positively by both sides. At the same time, no specific documents were reported to have been signed. Rather, it was about developing a certain outline of "gentlemen's agreements" that will form the basis of the system of relations between the countries. And not only that - it was actually about the coexistence of two superpowers. Once again, not in a multipolar world, not in a triangle (as Moscow would like), but in two centers.

The complete list of issues that were discussed will remain unavailable. Some topics were voiced, and some were not mentioned. I will describe a few critical areas and the extent to which progress in relations is possible.

1. The great war, which was so frightening, is likely to be postponed. The reconfiguration of the world order is in full swing. Both the Chinese and American sides tend to use the term "reshape." At the same time, the United States is withdrawing from several regions, while China, on the contrary, is creating the foundation for its military presence far from its borders. It is only natural that both Washington and Beijing tried to flex their muscles. But no one wants to fight. Therefore, at this stage, it was announced that contacts through the military leadership would be restored, and they would move to broader "interpersonal" consultations.

2. The trade war between the countries is more complicated. The processes are very similar to the logic of development described in the previous paragraph. But there are some "buts." Countries are dependent on each other. For example, the restrictions on the supply of chips to Chinese companies (unpleasant for China) were balanced by the limitation on the supply of gallium and germanium to the American market. These are essential elements for the production of the same chips. After all, the United States and China are the most significant trading partners.

Secondly, trade wars between the giants initially affect them but later (and much more destructively) affect their periphery and political partners. For both Beijing and Washington, this means weakening "their" periphery. So, the two countries are not giving up competition, but both sides will likely ease trade restrictions.

Washington and Beijing tried to flex their muscles. But no one wants to fight

3. Research in the field of artificial intelligence. This is a vital topic for both sides, and in many ways, it has become one of the reasons for, for example, the "chip wars." Both Beijing and Washington talk a lot about the development of AI, but neither side wants to give up the "palm of victory." Therefore, in addition to hardware, there are mutual limitations in the movement of technology and human resources (banal migration of scientists). There is probably no solution that satisfies both sides yet. The most they can agree on is a reduction in tension.

4. Fentanyl and chemical exports. For many people, this topic was a strange one. It is not. The synthetic opioid has been actively and long used in medicine and, of course, is controlled. The same cannot be said about the chemicals used for its (and not only its) synthesis. Their supply has become a problem for the United States. Here, China has clearly made a "gesture of goodwill." Apparently, Xi promised to tighten control over chemical exports (which, given the specifics of the political system, will not be a problem). Biden appreciated this and noted it separately after the meeting.

5. The Taiwan issue. Both sides called on each other to "refrain from provocations" and interference in the affairs of this territory. This allowed some analysts to draw conclusions about the inevitability of war. But following the meeting, both Xi and Biden mentioned "elections." We are talking about elections to the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. There is a very remarkable configuration there. The so-called Green Coalition, led by the Democratic Progressive Party, is in power. Several of its factions favor transformation into an independent state, i.e., rejection of the "one country" concept. However, the Greens have only 63 seats out of 110, and 48 are in the opposition Blue Coalition, created around the Kuomintang Party, which has been advocating for implementing the "one country, two paths" concept for the past 20 years. This is very close to China's concept of "one country, two systems." Moreover, the Kuomintang was the first party to congratulate the CPC on the beginning of its 20th Congress, and over the past year, its delegations have been "on the mainland" at least twice.

The elections will be held soon. The "blues" may well come to power. This is an opportunity for China and a challenge for the United States. After all, the party that created Taiwan cannot be called a "traitor to the island's interests." That is why both Beijing and Washington are actively working to develop a foreign policy background that will mobilize the electorate of their partners.

Moreover, the rapid reintegration of Taiwan is a threat to the United States. It's not just about semiconductors and electronics technology. For example, there are American weapons on the island, which Chinese specialists can access. It is also about controlling key shipping routes in the region. The tangle of interests is extremely tangled. But both sides do not want a big war (see point 1). They are focusing on the upcoming elections, after which they will look for appropriate algorithms for further plans. That is, the issue was postponed until the spring of 2024.

Read also: What to expect from the Biden-Xi meeting

6. The Middle East. It is a separate and harrowing topic. The United States was withdrawing from the region but simultaneously tried to create a coalition capable of curbing Iran's growing influence. However, the emergence of the Saudi Arabia - (possibly Egypt) - Israel - Turkey belt has at least been put on hold after the outbreak of the war in Gaza. For its part, China has not entered the region to the point where it can play the role of a "conflict deterrent." It is unlikely to want to take on the role of a regional policeman. Against this background, the key task of both players is to prevent a large-scale regional conflict. The United States, for its part, has already "warned Israel" about the disastrousness of occupying the territories liberated from Hamas. China is likely to try to influence Iran's position. Moreover, Beijing may well be Washington's tactical partner, as it has plans to develop its logistics and economic projects in the region. The "all against all" situation makes it extremely difficult to implement such programs.

7. Africa. A continent where China has made a strong entry and where Russia is trying to play. Where "anti-colonial" sentiments are strong (this is not only similar to "anti-Western" but identical). The latter is a natural reason for the gradual weakening of the influence of the EU states in the region and serves as an obstacle to realizing American interests. Here, states need stability (at least on a relative scale) and access to the resources of the continent's states (as well as to their markets as national economies grow). This is a complicated topic, as Beijing will not give up its positions. On the other hand, Russia's excessive activity is a challenge for both sides of the negotiations. A quick decision on this topic is unlikely, but consultations are guaranteed to continue. Without developing a common position "on the continent," – each country or regional case will be discussed separately. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that neither China nor the United States can influence the specifics of the change of power in the most unstable states in the region. Both sides are only reacting to new military coups.

Read also: What will Putin and Xi Jinping get from their crucial meeting

8. Ukraine. More specifically, Russia, which is at war in Ukraine. Russia, having tried to implement the idea of "Kyiv in three days" and being trapped in Ukraine, has fallen out of the list of candidates for the redivision of the world. Weakening Russia is beneficial to both Beijing and Washington. The only question is the extent of the "weakness." China has sharply increased its influence on the Russian economy while limiting the functionality of the Russian Federation as a "resource cube" and a market for its products. For the United States, Russia as a weakened regional (but no longer global) player is beneficial, but as a raw material appendage of China, not so much. The parties' positions are close, and they may become one factor that triggers the procedure of forcing Moscow and Kyiv to negotiate. They could also become a framework for the scenarios for ending the war discussed at the talks. However, for the United States, forcing the process is not yet advisable, especially against the backdrop of the election race and domestic political controversies. For the PRC, it is advisable to wait until Spring, when the processes of "binding Russia" become irreversible. Therefore, the topic has certainly been discussed, but some decisions will probably be made through a series of consultations. That is, in a few months.

9. Finally, the new configuration in Eastern Europe is an essential aspect that the parties will condemn and is directly related to the Russian-Ukrainian war – or, if you like, post-Russia. What matters here is the balance of interests of global players in our region, which will determine regional leaders' strengthening (or weakening) and force many states to rethink their functionality in the regional and international system. This is an important topic, but it has hardly been discussed directly so far. The reason is that there is no understanding of the algorithm by which the war will end.

Here, I see a "homework" for Ukraine. The country can (and should) now offer a vision of its place in the regional system, as well as its place in the conventional "American" and "Chinese" spheres of influence. Simply put, to define its claims to a place in the world. Without this, it will be decided for us, without us.

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